The Santa Fe City Council this week voted 8-1 to strike a rule requiring that the police chief or a chosen replacement be at all in-person council meetings to provide protection.
Under the change, an officer will only be required to attend when the council deems it necessary.
Councilor Renee Villarreal sponsored the change alongside Councilor Michael Garcia. Villarreal said the change was proposed to avoid setting a precedent and to match the council rules to how meetings have run in the past.
Despite the previous council rules stating otherwise, Villarreal said officers have not regularly attended meetings in the past.
“Having somebody, a sergeant-at-arms, in there with a gun be present, I think that can be intimidating for some people,” Villarreal said. “In some of the cases, you may say it feels safe to you, but for others it may not. I don’t think we should assume having someone with a gun who is supposed to protect us in the room feels comfortable for the public.”
Garcia said the change still allows for police presence when needed.
Councilor Jamie Cassutt, who cast the lone vote against the change, said she didn’t believe anyone who intended to cause a scene at a meeting would give the city ample notice to determine whether to call an officer to attend.
“I guess it’s that philosophy of prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” she said.
With a large number of vacancies in the Santa Fe Police Department, Councilor Chris Rivera said he didn’t like the idea of taking an officer off the streets to attend meetings.
Still, he said the council should discuss how to address security matters for when it returns to in-person meetings.
Councilor Signe Lindell, whose third term in office began in December, recalled a council meeting where a man sat next to her with a handgun visible.
She called the experience “horrifying.”
“I never want to go through that again,” Lindell said. “So many things about that were uncomfortable. I’m not sure having a single policeman in that chamber would have made any difference that evening.”
The amendment was one of a long list of procedural changes and updates approved by the City Council this week during a lengthy meeting. The changes, according to Councilors Cassutt and Carol Romero-Wirth, are intended to streamline City Council meetings and better use the committee process to craft legislation.
“There were a few pieces that we were trying to balance,” Cassutt said. “We know sometimes our meetings can go very long with the governing board, and sometimes we are working through a lot of details in the governing board that we thought should really be looked at at the committee level because it provides a lot more time for us to see how changes to legislation will actually impact it.”
Among the most notable changes:
- Legislation must be fully crafted and signed before being introduced.
- Legislation must be approved by at least one committee to reach the City Council. Once approved by one committee, the legislation is scheduled for a public hearing. If legislation is approved by all committees, the legislation is put on the consent agenda.
- A councilor must sign on as a co-sponsor to legislation at least 72 hours prior to when a resolution will be heard in a public hearing.
- If a bill receives five no votes during a committee meeting, the bill can not move forward to the City Council. Currently, a bill can still progress to the council, despite a unanimous no vote.
- Amendments approved during the committee process must be attached to the main legislation as approved.